The market around children’s cardboard continues rocketing into uncharted territory. Earlier this week, auction outfit Goldin announced a holographic “Illustrator” Pikachu Pokémon card from 1998 sold for $US900,000 (over $1.2 million in Aussie money). No one knows who bought it for that much, or why, but the winning bid shattered the previous record of$US375,000 (roughly $520,500) that a similar card went for exactly a year ago.
With a condition of “Near Mint 7,” the Illustrator Pikachu that sold on February 23 was one of only 40 copies currently known to exist, according to grading firm PSA. Only one other copy has been graded at the same near-mint condition. Offers started as low as $US75,000 ($104,000-ish) on February 10, but an apparent bidding war drove up the price in the following weeks.
To put the $US900,000 price tag in perspective, a slightly better “Mint 9″ condition Illustrator Pikachu sold in 2019 for $US195,000 (just over $270,000). Then a “Near Mint 7″ copy sold for $US375,000 in February 2021. Prior to that, the most valuable Pokémon Card was a first-edition shadowless holographic Charizard.
The last few years have seen prices for all sorts of collectibles explode, but the speculation around Pokémon cards has been extreme. As new people flocked to the scene, prices for the rarest cards skyrocketed and packs for new sets flew off store shelves. The hype was reignited in part by influencers like Logan Paul making content out of opening up packs and bidding on some of the most expensive cards (and occasionally getting scammed). Within the community, collectors on YouTube like Gary Haase have helped drive more attention to the financial aspect of the hobby. Others are just having fun setting their own collecting goals and indulging in a nostalgic part of their childhood.
But this three-fold increase in just one year is truly bonkers. The Illustrator Pikachu is indeed something unique even in the world of Pokémon cards. It was draw by Pikachu’s creator, Atsuko Nishida, and only a few dozen copies were produced as prizes for promo contests in a Japanese magazine. Still, that type of exponential growth recalls the shockingly inflated prices that have recently turned the vintage game collecting world upside down.
Auction houses, card graders, and collectors all have a vested interest in trying to drive up the hype and speculative value around Pokémon cards. That alone isn’t proof of anything untoward going on here, but without knowing the individuals directly involved in the latest bidding war it’s hard not to be sceptical of just what’s going on at the high-end of the market. For those who just want to have fun with Pokémon cards, the latest expansion, Sword & Shield — Brilliant Stars, just came out on February 25.